Kenya joins push for WTO reforms

Chris Kiptoo
Trade PS Chris Kiptoo says Kenya has practical proposals on how to regain a working multilateral system. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Nairobi is once again at the centre of efforts to re-write global trade rules as raging tariff wars shine spotlight on the role of World Trade Organisation.

Kenya’s trade ministry officials are set to fly to Canada next week to present proposals on “radical reforms” that WTO requires to work effectively in a polarised world.

“The Canada meeting will receive proposals from 15 world ministers, including Kenya which has been very active in global trade matters,” Mr Keith Rockwell, director and chief spokesperson at WTO told the Business Daily in Nairobi as the global agency began its outreach for East Africa this week.

“There is a general agreement that WTO needs some reforms...; that we cannot retain a system where two thirds of members prefer not to follow rules”.

The WTO, a global agency which is supposed to write rules of trade and settle disputes, has lately been on the spot as US President Donald Trump continues to dismantle the trade pacts negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.


The spats which, among other things, have led to US-China trade wars, have, since March affected $413 bislion (Sh41 trillion) worth of exports, Mr Rockwell said, forcing the WTO to revise the 2018 global trade growth projection down to 3.7 per cent, from 4.5 percent at the start of the year.

Trade economists have since projected that the raging tariff wars, if not tamed, could reduce global trade volumes by 17 percent this year and, in the long run, cut the world’s GDP by two percent.

Nairobi received global acclaim after it hosted the 2015 WTO ministerial conference that brokered agreement on farm subsidies, technology and trade facilitation, ending a more than 10-year stalemate.

On Tuesday, Trade principal secretary Chris Kiptoo would not discuss the details of proposed reforms, only saying that Kenya was undertaking an “informal assignment” from WTO. “The document that we have prepared for the Canada meeting contains practical proposals on how the multilateral system can be made to work again,” said Dr Kiptoo.

Among the issues that WTO is grappling with are America’s contestation of China’s continued classification as a developing State, intellectual property protection, transparency in trade regimes of member States and the distorting effects of subsidies being handed to State-owned enterprises. The global agency is also seeking policies to handle small and medium-sized enterprises as well as emerging segments — such as e-commerce — which do not exist in its founding rulebook.